"Once the Republican ticket was defeated, the time had passed for ad feminam attacks on Palin. Hence my surprise and dismay at Dick Cavett's Nov. 14 blog in the New York Times, "The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla," which made a big splash and topped the paper's most-read list for nearly a week. I have enormous respect for Cavett: His TV interviews with major celebrities, which are now available on DVD, set a high-water mark for sheer intelligence in that medium that will surely never be surpassed.
However, Cavett's piece on Sarah Palin was insufferably supercilious. With dripping disdain, he sniffed at her "frayed syntax, bungled grammar and run-on sentences." He called her "the serial syntax-killer from Wasilla High," "one who seems to have no first language." I will pass over Cavett's sniggering dismissal of "soccer moms" as lightweights who should stay far, far away from government.
I was so outraged when I read Cavett's column that I felt like taking to the air like a Valkyrie and dropping on him at his ocean retreat in Montauk in the chichi Hamptons. How can it be that so many highly educated Americans have so little historical and cultural consciousness that they identify their own native patois as an eternal mark of intelligence, talent and political aptitude?
In sonorous real life, Cavett's slow, measured, self-interrupting and clause-ridden syntax is 50 years out of date. Guess what: There has been a revolution in English -- registered in the 1950s in the street slang, colloquial locutions and assertive rhythms of both Beat poetry and rock 'n' roll and now spread far and wide on the Web in the standard jazziness of blogspeak. Does Cavett really mean to offer himself as a linguistic gatekeeper for political achievers in this country?"
December 10, 2008